MIAMI, Okla. — No. 15 Butler overcame an early two-touchdown deficit and held on late for a 34-30 victory over No. 10 Northeastern Oklahoma A&M 34-30 to win the Midwest Classic Bowl on Sunday afternoon at Red Robertson Field.
Trailing by as many as 15 points in the second quarter, Butler (8-4 overall, 5-2 KJCCC) rallied with three consecutive touchdowns for a 26-21 lead, then added a game-winning touchdown with 4:35 remaining to earn its first bowl win since 2011.
Butler quarterback Trae Self, who earned offensive MVP honors, scored the eventual game-winning touchdown on a 7-yard keeper. Self then added a two-point conversion pass to Darren Wilson for a 34-28 lead.
The Grizzly defense ended NEO's hopes for a comeback bid with two interceptions on the final two possessions - including a game-ending interception by Robert Hatchett on a Hail Mary attempt on the game's final play.
Hatchett, who recorded two interceptions with seven tackles and four solos, was named the top defensive player of the game.
Despite getting outgained 505 to 334 in total offensive yards, the Grizzlies forced five turnovers in the game and picked off NEO quarterback Guy Myers four times in second half.
NEO (8-4 overall, 5-2 SWJCFC) opened the contest with a 14-0 lead after scoring on consecutive drives midway through the first half. Myers capped a 13-play, 46-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Tariq Bitson on the Norsemen's second drive of the game. NEO converted two 4th-and-1 chances to keep the drive alive.
The Norsemen then took a two-touchdown lead with a Myers 3-yard touchdown run with 14:41 remaining in the second quarter. Myers set up his touchdown with a 50-yard pass to Chris Potts.
Butler would get on the board on the ensuing drive with a 52-yard screen pass from Self to Romello Kimbrough, but a missed extra point put the Grizzlies behind 14-6.
NEO went back in front by two scores as Myers connected with Marcheenan Hair on a 20-yard touchdown pass. Norsemen running back Micah Reese opened the drive with a 52-yard run up the middle, despite NEO recovering a fumble by Reese on the play. Four plays later, Hair caught Myers' pass in the left side of the end zone.
Butler closed the first half with two rushing touchdowns by Grahm Roberts and Makiya Caesar on consecutive possessions to pull within two points. Roberts scored from two yards out after Self converted a pair of third-down chances on the drive. Self completed a 17-yard pass to Larry Jones to move Butler across midfield, then added a 17-yard scramble on 3rd-and-10 to the NEO 5-yard line.
Butler gained possession back with 3:44 left in the half after Hunter Kier forced and recovered a fumble on a 20-yard run Darran Williams run at the Grizzly 13. A 32-yard pass from Self to Wilson put Butler near midfield, then after a defensive pass interference call and a 13-yard pass to Isreal Watson on third down, Caesar scored from four yards out with 39 seconds remaining. NEO blocked the extra point attempt to take a 21-19 lead at the break.
Hatchett's interception on NEO's opening drive of the second half would lead to Butler's first lead of the contest. Myers misfired on a pass across the middle of the field, as Hatchett picked off the miscue and returned the ball to the Norsemen 17.
Six plays later, Grahm Roberts scored from a yard out to put the Grizzlies in front 26-21 with 11:29 left in the third quarter.
Neither team would score again until 14:54 remaining in the game as NEO took a 28-26 lead on a Williams 2-yard touchdown, capping a long 16-play, 97-yard drive that ate 6:18 off the clock.
Butler's game-winning score was set up by a 32-yard punt return by D'Anthony Bell, giving the Grizzlies possession at the NEO 21. Butler ran the ball four straight times, with Self diving into the end zone on a 7-yard score for a 32-28 lead with 4:35 to play.
The Grizzlies elected to go for two, even after being penalized five yards on a substitution infraction. The gamble paid off as Self rolled right out of the shotgun formation, then hit Darren Wilson over the middle for a 34-28 lead.
Bell ended NEO's next drive with an interception at the Butler 2-yard line with 2:33 remaining. The Grizzlies forced NEO to burn all three timeouts by gaining a first down, then the Grizzlies elected to take a safety with Self running out of the end zone with 24 seconds remaining.
Following a Butler kickoff to the NEO 44, the Norsemen managed just five yards on three plays before Myers scrambled to his left and heaved a desperation pass on the final play, which Hatchett picked off and ran out of the end zone to seal the Grizzly victory.
Self finished with two total touchdowns and completed just 7-of-17 passing for 133 yards with an interception. Ja'kevious Vickers led the Grizzlies with 64 rushing yards on 16 carries, while Darren Wilson was Butler's top receiver with three catches for 45 yards.
Myers had 271 passing yards on 19-of-37 passes with four interceptions, while Williams gained 125 rushing yards on 25 carries for NEO.
With their first bowl victory under head coach Tim Schaffner, Butler finishes the season at 8-4 overall – having three of the four losses coming against NJCAA top 15-ranked opponents.
NOTES: Butler improves to 15-13 all-time in bowl games. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak in the postseason... Butler leads the overall series 6-5 against NEO, which began in 1933. The Grizzlies have won five straight games against the Norsemen, with Sunday's matchup becoming the first meeting since the 2001 season opener... The Grizzlies are 2-1 against NEO in bowl games, with Butler's previous win coming against the Norsemen coming in the 1981 NJCAA title game.